Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Cross: An Exhibit of HUMAN WRONG, NOT DIVINE WRATH

As if God hadn’t given us sufficient demonstration of His hatred of stubborn sin by periodically revealing His wrath from Heaven on human sin all down through history, both to Israel and to the nations, what is Romans 1:18-3:20 telling us and teaching us and warning us about? This is precisely why the Cross was no such exhibit! The cross of Jesus shows what humans will do in the face of a goodness, rectitude, mercy, and virtue-in-general that is perfect, flawless, and sinless. It brings conviction and a sense of personal sinfulness. [9/23/06]

The grand and damning exhibition of the iniquitous enormity of human wrong or sin is visible exactly in Jesus’ self-surrender to his enemies (aggravated by his sterling career of miraculous liberations from every disease and demonic infestation, in tandem with his luminous teaching authority–the envy of every Pharisee, scribe, and teacher of the Jews–and in conjunction with his unimpeachable virtue) in virtual SILENCE! For this behavior, at the last, showed them to all the world for what they were, exposing their treacherous depravity buck naked, without the decency of a fig leaf, allowing them to unreel hatred, lie, perfidy, slander, and viciousness unmoderated, undisguised, UNMASKED!

Sin’s obtuse intransigence under these “perfect” conditions, while innocence awaited justice and truth to testify on his behalf (as Moses’ Law required), was shown, fangs bared, claws red, for the thankless, vengeful coward it is.  God’s imagined “wrath” at this point would have proved superfluous to convince the human race of their dark intentions when faced with the Light of Life, which Jesus’ entire career had shed abroad with divine love and unrestrained generosity…just like his Father.  The idea that what we saw befalling God’s Son was God’s own anger/indignation/wrath is pre·post·erous, i.e. out of order! It is enough that Jewish perfidy and Roman complicity unleashed Satanic ATROCITY! [9/23/06]

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H. D. McDonald: PLAYING WITH A STACKED DECK

H. D. McDonald in his work, The Atonement of the Death of Christ, was playing with a stacked deck. His resulting house of cards is a fragile production as a consequence. By 1985, when this textbook appeared, he would have had access to the works of F. X. Durrwell (The Resurrection: A Biblical Study, 1960 [5th ed.!]; 1950 in French), Markus Barth (Acquittal by Resurrection, 1964; Justification, 1971; 1969 in German; Was Christ’s Death A Sacrifice? 1961), Robert D. Brinsmead (Verdict magazine, 1983-84), not to mention the much earlier works of Paul Peter Waldenström (1888-89 in English) and Axel Andersson on Waldenström (1937) as well as the splendidly suggestive and rich work of F.C.N. Hicks (1930, 1938), which is in McDonald’s bibliography but not his text! These and other omissions (William Law, Barton W. Stone, Thomas Erskine of Linlathen, Jürgen Moltmann, Hendrikus Berkhof, et al) seem inexplicable, but their inclusion could well have forced a crisis of depth in his rather two-dimensional presentation. [9/21/06]

H. D. McDonald piles up words without knowledge and delivers sentences without authority. Evangelingo abounds to confuse and trivialize the real issues. Rhetoric displaces logic; oratory upstages solid exegesis. [9/18/06]  Yet McDonald is not alone in this.  He holds a par with Leon Morris, J. I. Packer, John Stott, and more.

EVANGELICAL AND LIBERAL THEOLOGIES OF THE ATONEMENT:  TWIN ERRORS

Evangelicals are loathe to admit that the merely “ethical religion” and “social activism” of 19th ad 20th century liberalism has its analogue in the merely “substitutionary” atonement and “forensically imputed” righteousness of evangelical orthodoxy. Liberalism and conservatism (theologically speaking) are twin errors generated, in part, by mutual repulsion but stemming ultimately from lack of a resurrectionaryatonement” and thus a lack of charismatic power that properly accords with the New Covenant in Jesus Messiah. Due to lack of a resurrectionary atonement and the creational healing component naturally flowing from it as an abiding sign of God’s impending Kingdom (in fullness), all Christendom continues to fetch around for something to give “substance” to Christian experience and presence in the surrounding culture. But nothing beats the dynamic of God’s own Spirit—Immanuel! Unless we are willing to get comfortable with the unpredictable turns and redemptive surprises of such a Guide and Counselor and Coach, we may continue to wander amid stale and feckless options of the past.  (Even Latin American “liberation” theologies are variants of post-WWII German theologies, shackled to vestigial handicaps of their own recent past.) [9/21/06]

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More on H. D. McDonald

A sense of just how threatening the Resurrection is to evangelical theologians may be ascertained from H. D. McDonald’s selective quotation from the generally excellent work by Walter Künneth, Theology of the Resurrection (1933; 1951; English, 1965). McDonald writes:

The point of the present chapter [3] has, we think, been sufficiently made. [We think not, if by that he means a validation of his own errant point.] It only remains to append [!] an extended reinforcing statement with the same import from Walter Künneth’s Theology of the Resurrection. Künneth [get this!] appears in his exposition to be on the verge of giving the resurrection overdue emphasis in relation to the cross, but in the following carefully composed passage he gives appropriate expression to the interrelation of the two events in God’s redemptive act for sinful man (The Atonement of the Death of Christ, p. 40, all emphases added).

Our own judgment is, however, quite the contrary. Right at the moment when Künneth was on the threshold of a resurrectionary breakthrough that actually would have given the true and therefore only “appropriate” expression to the interrelation of Messiah’s cross and resurrection, he becomes sadly delinquent in his very suggestive and pregnant exposition and argumentation. It is astonishing to behold pages of parturient ponderings that only bring forth a rehash of the same old errors, which, predictably, McDonald was able—meager as they are—to snag with his net. Disappointingly, Künneth was still in thrall to Lutheran formulas that obscured his otherwise exceptional clear-sightedness. His declension is all the more unfortunate because the English edition appeared only in 1965—several years after the classic of F. X. Durrwell, The Resurrection: A Biblical Study (French, 1950), appeared in English (1960, from 5th French edition), and after Markus Barth had shown such solid spadework in his Acquittal by Resurrection (1964). It is these latter unprecedented treatments that finally start to give due emphasis to the Resurrection in relation to the Cross, giving, in fact, long overdue appropriate expression to their interrelation. BUT THESE WENT TOTALLY UNNOTICED BY H. D. McDonald, WHOSE OWN BOOK APPEARED TWENTY YEARS HENCE, IN 1985! This appears to be nothing less than deliberate, pre-meditated neglect. Nor does McDonald cite Jürgen Moltmann’s classic, The Crucified God, who dances close enough to the edge of orthodoxy to glimpse the celestial city, too. Thus does McDonald give a bad example of damning by faint praise and fulsome prejudice, or perhaps simply overwrought preferentialism. But what excuse is there?

Furthermore, and most ironically, neither is there the slightest word in his some 350 pages about Paul Peter Waldenström, the leading theologian of Sweden at the time the Evangelical Covenant Church and the Evangelical Free Church were founded in America (mid 1880’s), the latter sponsoring Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois, where McDonald served as visiting professor for some years. Waldenström, arguably the theological dean of both these thriving denominations, expounded a very well elaborated and articulated theology of the Atonement in decided variance from McDonald’s. Why the passing over in disrespectful silence?

But McDonald’s coup de grâce is the chapter following the above selective quotation and deprecating remark about the peril of “overdue emphasis” in the Resurrection “in relation to the cross.” In his fourth and final chapter, “The Atonement and Experience,” in his first section, “concerned with what should be said about the atonement in the faith of the church,” McDonald says exactly nothing about the Resurrection—the word never appears!—evidently so as not to run the risk of “overdue emphasis”! Thus regardless of all his glowing tributes to the Resurrection as playing a significant role in the drama of redemption, when it comes down to performance time, the Resurrection doesn’t even rate a bit part; it never even makes it on stage! But after all, what should we really expect from the author of a book entitled “The Atonement of the Death of Christ”? We had been forewarned. The Resurrection is only an “extra,” if not a mere prop. All his fine words were but a deception…perhaps even to himself. His sincerity can hardly be doubted, but his attention to Biblical detail has much to be desired, thus he falls into Scripture-twisting.

Without a doubt, if McDonald had truly understood the absolutely integral and inextricably fundamental placement of Jesus’ resurrection in dealing with the problem of sin, he could not possible have written a chapter on “The Atonement and Experience” without so much as passing mention of it! This egregious instance of damning by faint praise, in effect, nullifies his previous chapter, “The Atonement and Resurrection.” The Resurrection, properly apprehended, makes an enormous intellectual, emotional, and motivational impact as the glorious prelude to the continuing exaltation of the obedient Son back to his beaming Father waiting to install him as Sovereign over the created universe and to bequeath him Wholesome Spirit in explosive power and magnitude to distribute earthward upon His newly-adopted children. This Spirit is the payoff for us and our experience of God’s Kingdom now. How could anyone possibly talk about it without mentioning Christ’s resurrection?

So for lack of understanding, McDonald appeals to “the mystery of the atonement” and glorifies “the darkness he thinks surrounds it! Is he not projecting his own darkened counsel onto the open secret of the apostles’ proclamation? He insists that it “must” be this way! Why? So that any who doubt this may be silenced forthwith and never venture to search Scripture a bit more diligently for some light by the illumination of God’s Spirit? McDonald’s over-pious dogmatism is reprehensible. He is lulling his readers back to the Dark Ages! His sincerity only makes him the more soporific. Let’s snap out of it! He would make faith a servile lackey to “mysteries” and thus betray its rightful pedigree as the distinguishing faculty of God’s friends and adopted heirs, to whom He tells all!

But finally, and no less erroneous and reprehensible, is McDonald’s complete silence concerning the Wholesome Spirit in his slanted chapter on “The Atonement and Experience.” No surprise, however, for this too is a typical evangelical failing. He speaks unsoundly of the “experience of the atonement” (pp. 48ff), not apprehending that whatever experience we may enjoy in the wake of Messiah’s faithful obedience through death and out the other side is altogether the fruit of our getting the Spirit of Wholesomeness when we get immersed, by faith!

This whole sad scenario of a prominent evangelical theologian suggests strongly that without a proper and accurate emphasis on the redemptive reality of Messiah’s resurrection, the proper role of the Wholesome Spirit is also suppressed, to our great loss and experiential impoverishment. McDonald must then invoke inauthentic stand-ins to fill the shoes of God’s promised and inexpressible Gift! This is imitation experience. This is McDonald’s “Big Mac” version of the apostolic three-course steak dinner. [9/20/06]

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A “PASTED-ON” RESURRECTION

Unless and until we come to grasp Jesus’ resurrection as salvation from the cross (this, after all, is the Explanation which is of the Cross,” I Corinthians 1:18), the resurrection will inevitably seem like a makeshift paste-on to a cross where all ‘the good stuff’ is s’posed to take place. Many modern evangelical theologians have hustled to append what almost looks like an authentic and integral emphasis on Messiah’s resurrection, in order to cover for long centuries of ignoring, slighting, and by no means benignly neglecting the very locus of human salvation. They may look stylish in their new dress hat, but the slightest tremor is likely to dislodge the loose accessory; it will not cover the many grim centuries of theological disservice and minimizing. For what is needed to atone for pandering “another gospel” is a penitent admission of dismal failure to pay attention to the actual language of Wholesome Scripture, penned by Wholesome Spirit for our true enlightenment and whole-bodied salvation.

The once complained of “pasted-on” righteousness of the Reformation has its corollary in a pasted-on resurrection that comes as a mere apologetic afterthought. Yet it does little good to repent of its long neglect if we don’t intend to enfranchise it as a full voting member of our theological systematics, empowering it to influence the whole august assembly of our lexicons and loci and even to oust pretenders and imposters. The Resurrection has its rights! Yet virtually all evangelical orthodoxy has imposed a gag order. Let the Resurrection speak for itself for Heaven’s sake!

The tactic of the orthodox is all too reminiscent of adorning the tombs of the prophets. Only this time around they’re adorning the tomb of our resurrected Savior! First the Cross and now the Tomb come up for this dubious decoration. When are we gonna get it? When do we start protesting like faithful Protestants? Can we expect some heartfelt repentance, now, from the current defenders of various Western Christian orthodoxies, or will they be “offended” into retrenchment mode? Will there have to ensue new persecutions before the church of God awakes to the suppression of apostolic truth? [9/19/06]

THE WORD OF THE CROSS”: RESURRECTION

The Explanation for (“which is of”–I Corinthians 1:18) the Cross is that it was necessary in order to justify God in raising Jesus from the dead! In other words, the cross of Messiah justified his resurrectionary salvation on the third day! And in his salvation from death (the penalty for Adam’s sin and our sins, subsequently) is our salvation from death, and in this way we are saved from our sins as well, for fear of death kept us enslaved to them. In addition, God sends us His Wholesome Spirit to take up residence and keep the dwelling clean. Simple. [9/19/06]

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THE NECESSITY OF THE BADNESS OF “GOOD FRIDAY”

If the misnamed “Good Friday” is not really as unrelievedly bad as I am painting it, then the goodness of Christ’s resurrection gets minimized and all but collapses as the stupendous surprise by which God unveils HIS RIGHTEOUS, ALMIGHTY, SUPER-COLOSSAL CAPABILITY OF MAKING ALL THINGS WORK TOGETHER FOR THE GOOD OF THOSE WHO LOVE HIM TO THE END.  [9/18/06]

 Theologically, what is the difference between the bejewelled crucifix of Roman Catholic orthodoxy and the bedeviled cross of Protestant orthodoxy?  If the former often suffers under the awkward burden of ill-placed tawdry gems, the latter sags under the unwieldy weight of misplaced divine wrath; neither is appropriate, both misrepresent and distort the truth.  The true glory or power of Messiah’s cross is his resurrection that necessarily followed.  [9/18/06]

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H. D. McDonald: “EQUALLY expressed”?

H. D. McDonald is insistent concerning God that, “equally expressed in his atoning deed will be his love and his holiness, his compassion and his judgment. God would not be true to himself if he did not forgive sinners in his love, nor would he be true to himself if he did not judge sin in his wrath.” (The Atonement of the Death of Christ, p. 29, emphases added.) Really? “Equally”? Sounds to me like a formula to guarantee confusion. In fact, rather, it looks to me as if God worked very hard to keep the two separate! Romans 1:18-3:20 makes for severe if not grim reading as an exposition of God’s indignation from Heaven, exclusively. Only in Romans 3:21 does Paul finally launch into God’s saving righteousness, picking up where he left off in Romans 1:17.

Fact is, there is no righteousness of God predicated of the Cross or miserable death of Messiah anywhere in the book of Romans or anywhere else in the New or Old Testaments. So where did McDonald come by his unjustifiable dogmatism? He is trying to push too large an agenda onto the Cross, and it topples under that kind of weight. The Cross was not designed to bear the weight of God’s “wrath”! When His wrath finally did get revealed from Heaven forty years later to avenge His Son’s treatment, along with the blood of all the slain prophets before him, including John the Baptist, it swept away Herod’s magnificent temple off its foundation with not so much as a single one of its gigantic stones resting on another! You want an exhibition of God’s wrath? There you have it! The gruesome record of Josephus is there for all to read. Daniel the prophet foretold it; Jesus the Messiah reiterated it, even while dragging his old rugged cross up the hill. He well knew that wrath was not His fate or burden! Let’s SORT IT OUT! DISTINGUO!  McDonald is not to be commended for his pious confusions. They are stumblingblocks as big as temple stones for the faith of thoughtful disciples. [9/17/06]

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H. D. McDonald: “The Atonement of the DEATH of Christ”?????

H. D. McDonald declared, “The utmost of the divine reaction to sin Christ on the cross bore to the utmost.” (The Atonement of the Death of Christ: In Faith, Revelation, and History [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985], p. 27, emphases added.) Is this correct? No, it is not. What Messiah bore to the utmost, without retaliation, without self-justifying outburst, was the human (and thus sinful) reaction to sinlessness! This is what the vicious keepers of God’s vineyard (the priests!) did to the Son of the Owner, for pity sake! It was a poignant demonstration of the viciousness of human beings and hardly needed further “endorsement” from the Owner! The viciousness of such a sin was quite sufficiently proven by the Cross without any need for God to get in on the treacherous act as a…uh…“sponsor” or “underwriter” or “producer,” much less the “director”! Simply because He predicted the dastardly deed and instructed His innocent Son to walk into their trap, eyes wide open, does not mean that He had a hand in their mob behavior or lynching. But He—“the Knower of hearts”—knew what was in the “hearts of darkness” of the leaders of the Jews and allowed their envy free rein as the perfect backdrop for His tardy but no less effective rescue operation on the third day—right on schedule! AND HIS RESCUE WAS OUR REDEMPTION, FOR IT PAVED THE WAY TO LIFE AGELONG THROUGH THE MEANS OF THE WHOLESOME SPIRIT. PENTECOST WAS THE BIG PAYOFF…FOR US. So obviously their perfidiously contrived foil to trap the Son of God turned out to be the appointed (in fact predesignated) means by which they were foiled by God! What a hilariously apropos denouement! [9/17/06]

The title of H. D. McDonald’s book, The Atonement of the Death of Christ:  In Faith, Revelation, and History (emphases added), is perhaps more revelatory of history’s momentous misstep of faith than of anything by that name supposedly found in Scripture.  For in Scripture, beginning to end, it is the blood that is, regardless of its clearly symbolic significance, the active ingredient in the AtonementAnd, equally clearly, they couldn’t get the blood without killing something.  But a death without the blood is useless for atoning purposes.  McDonald is long on death but short on blood.  Therefore his treatment of sin is not fully effective.  And certainly his treatment for death is inefficacious because he sees it as the solution rather than the problem to be solved!

Imagine a patient at Death’s door, in need of a heart transplant, whose physician informs her that “a substitute needs to die [for you] so that you can live,” whereupon, when a suitable donor does die, he announces to her triumphantly, “we have just been informed that someone matching your requirements has just died.  Do you believe this?” and upon getting an affirmative reply declares, “then you’re saved!  Just believe it and ‘receive the donor into your heart’ and you will live!”  Wouldn’t we judge such a doctor to be a quack?  Let’s get to the heart of the matter:  the patient needs the donor heart transplanted for it to do her any good!  No talk of an “objective,” “forensic” “transaction” happening “outside of” the patient, perhaps in a sporting accident on a hill far away in an old rugged toboggan one Friday afternoon in April, is going to do her an ounce of good.  There needs to be a transference of flesh and blood for her to benefit and live.

Similarly, the actual transference of the Spirit of life represented by the blood of Jesus needs to take place if his death is to prove life-giving for us.  [9/17/06]

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